by Maria Vitale Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
December 30, 2005
Tehran, Iran (LifeNews.com) — Iran is preparing for the birth of cloned sheep in February—the first such effort in the Middle East.
The cloning program has the support of Muslim Shiite religious leaders in Iran, who support animal cloning but oppose human reproductive cloning. Most of Iran’s population consists of Shiites. However, Sunni Muslim religious leaders have banned all cloning—even for animals.
Iranian researchers tried to impregnate five sheep with cloned embryos and one of the sheep is expected to deliver twins in mid-February.
"Of five surrogate mothers, three of the sheep are pregnant. One of them has two babies in its womb, an unprecedented occurrence in the world’s brief cloning history," Saeed Kazemi Ashtiani, head of Iran’s Royan Institute, told the Associated Press.
An ultrasound performed by veterinarians seemed to indicate that the twin sheep are healthy.
“Fortunately, everything is pointing in the right direction. We appear to be in…perfect shape,” Ashtiani told the AP.
Meanwhile, the director of the Maria Infertility Medical Institute based in Seoul, South Korea, Park Se-pill, said the impending births show “that Iran has the technology to create cloned sheep like Dolly,” the well-known cloned sheep, which was born in the 1990s. Researchers at the Royan Institute also tried to clone a cow, but the pregnancy failed.
Cloning has led to a number of ethical concerns, especially over the prospect that it might be used in humans. However, Ashtiani said researchers in Iran would never try to clone a human being because it would not be permitted in the Middle Eastern nation.
Earlier this year, Dolly the sheep creator Ian Wilmut and South Korean human cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk announced they would team up to engage in human cloning to produce embryonic stem cells for research.
At the time of the announcement, Dr. David Stevens of the 17,000-member Christian Medical Association said their human cloning research should be stopped on ethical and medical grounds.
“In just a few short years since the cloning of Dolly the sheep, we have witnessed a breathtaking jump to cloning and destroying human beings. These researchers don’t seem to recognize the difference between human beings and barnyard animals. Now it appears that these two cloners are going to focus on cloning more human beings to use like lab rats to study diseases. Is this how we want the human race to be treated—as mere fodder for scientific experimentation?”